Yorkshire Dales schools saved from closure but will face ‘significant’ change

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THREE Wensleydale primary schools that were previously at risk of closure due to financial pressures and low pupil numbers will remain open, securing education in the dale for current and future pupils.

The governing body of Bainbridge and West Burton Church of England primary schools, along with Askrigg Voluntary Controlled primary school, will now give the Wensleydale community a say in how they will addresses the challenges the three schools face.

North Yorkshire County Council, which has been working with the schools’ governing body, alongside the Diocese of Leeds, said there are a number of options for change at the sites - all of which will enable them to stay open. However, the options involve “significant operational change” and the possibility of a reduced number of class groups across the three sites.

Community engagement on future proposals for the schools was originally planned for last year - but was postponed in the wake of the Department of Education’s announcement last September of a new funding formula for schools, so that the impact of the formula could be properly assessed by council officers.

The county council has lobbied the Government for fairer funding for smaller rural schools for some time, and says it continues to do so.

It says village schools play a “crucial role” in the life of their communities and has worked to broker and support school partnerships and federations so that where possible children should be educated locally.

Future options for keeping the schools in Bainbridge, West Burton and Askrigg open have all been scrutinised under the new formula and any changes would be implemented from September this year.

Derek Walpole, the schools’ chair of governors, said: “I’m delighted that the Government’s revised funding formula has enabled us to retain our three primary schools in Wensleydale.”

North Yorkshire’s executive member for schools, Coun Patrick Mulligan, said the council was committed to keeping village schools thriving “whenever possible.”

“We fully recognise the importance of children accessing quality education in their local schools and we are very pleased that we have been able to support the governing board to present a range of options which keep all three sites open,” he said.

Independent councillor for the Upper Dales, John Blackie, said: “I am delighted all three schools will be remaining open as they are at the very heart of the deeply rural communities they serve, although there will have to be compromise to deliver this very welcome outcome.

“But the governors will need to take on board the results of the forthcoming consultation to ensure the option taken forward will maximise the pupil numbers at each school, both now and in the future. All told this is an excellent result for the Upper Dales.”

Last year six North Yorkshire primary schools closed. They were Drax Community Primary School; Horton-in-Ribblesdale and Rathmell Church of England primary schools, which closed in August 2017; and Ingleby Arncliffe and Swainby and Potto Church of England primary schools; and Skipton Ings Community Primary School, which closed in December.

A North Yorkshire County Council spokeswoman said it was working with a “number of small schools” around sustainability - including review a of the impact of the new funding formula.